John Henry Martin, 1842 – 1881
by Brian Stevenson
last updated April, 2015
John H. Martin produced a variety of reasonable quality microscope slides during the 1860s and 1870s (Figure 1). He began advertising for objects suitable for making slides in the mid-1860s (Figure 3). Through at least 1877, Martin sold and exchanged both prepared slides and unmounted objects. By the spring of 1881, at the age of 38, he was dead, probably from tuberculosis.
Figure 1. Examples of microscope slides produced by John H. Martin. The addresses on his slides allow them to be dated. (A) 78 Week Street, Maidstone, his parents’ home. Martin is known to have requested specimens for making slides in 1865. He lived here until at least the middle of 1867. The date of 18 Dec., 1871 is in another hand, and probably indicates when an owner acquired this slide. (B and C) 86 Week Street, Maidstone. Martin advertised slides for exchange from this address in early 1869. The absence of a Micro-Assay Laboratory label suggests production prior to 1873. The design on the custom-made paper was probably created by Martin, as the style of drawing is very similar to that done by him in his books on microscopy. 86 Week Street was a multifunctional building, and simultaneously housed several families, businesses and societies. (D) Rarely seen, the same paper as B and C, but without Martin’s name or address. (E) Label of Micro-Assay Laboratory, Maidstone. This business operated from Martin’s home, at 86 Week Street, and was running by 1873. Martin moved to London after April, but before November, 1877. I am not aware of any Martin slides with the London address, so it is not clear if he continued to supply slides after 1877. (L 1.0F) Magnified view of a Micro-Assay Laboratory label. Contemporary slide maker Henry Vial used circular labels identical in style to Martin’s Micro-Assay Labels, and is known to have used pattered papers very similar in pattern to that shown in panel B, indicating close interactions between the two microscopists.
Figure 2. Martin was not above re-labeling other people’s work for resale. This slide was made by Edmund Wheeler, but Wheeler’s monograms have been covered over with a Martin label and a small circular sticker. This was not an uncommon practice among slide-sellers. This site’s biography of John T. Norman includes a photo of a slide that was relabeled by Wheeler, then re-labeled by Norman, as well as two other slides re-labeled by Norman (see Figure 9 of J.T. Norman).
John Henry Martin was born during the summer of 1842 in Maidstone, Kent, the second son of John and Caroline Martin. Father John was a cabinet maker, upholsterer and picture frame maker. The elder son, Albert, took up his father’s trade, and later took over the family business. The Martin business apparently did relatively well – the 1861 census recorded that John Martin Sr. employed 2 men and 3 apprentices (the two sons plus four other people), and the family employed a domestic servant.
In 1865, 23 year-old John H. Martin offered to exchange echinus (sea urchin) spines with other biologists (Figure 3A). Over the next four years, his exchange offers also included whale bone (baleen) section and asparagus beetles. By May, 1869, Martin was offering prepared slides (Figure 3B).
Figure 3. Advertisements and exchange offers from J.H. Martin. (A) The earliest known advertisement from Martin, from the September, 1865 issue of Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip. The letter “T” was clearly a typographical error – there was nobody with the first initial “T” in the Martin household. Spines of Echinus (sea urchin) were very popular objects for microscope slides, especially when cut in cross-section. (B) Martin’s earliest identified advertisement for prepared slides. Brian Bracegirdle’s ‘Microscopical Mounts and Mounters’ shows a slide with this same specimen description, with the address 78 Week St., Maidstone (plate 25, slide H). (C) From an 1872 issue of Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, an exchange offer for an unmounted specimen. Such unmounted objects appear to have constituted a significant proportion of Martin’s sales/exchanges. (D) The slide illustrated in Figure 1C (above), a tissue specimen, may have been made possible by an advertisement such as this. (E). An international venture by John Martin, to provide unmounted objects to the U.S.A., from The Monthly Microscopical Journal
The Maidstone and Mid-Kent Natural History Society met for its first general meeting on May 18, 1869. Regular meetings were held at the home of the Society’s Secretary, John. H. Martin, at 86 Week Street, Maidstone. Martin’s report of the meeting to the Monthly Microscopical Journal was apparently a bit long-winded, as the printed report was footnoted: “The Secretary would much oblige us by in future forwarding a brief abstract of the meetings. The task of employing the scissors on a long newspaper report, which has on this occasion fallen to our lot, is not a pleasant one, and it takes up much time.—Ed. M. M. J.”.
John Martin wrote two books on microscopy. The first, Microscopic Objects Figured and Described, was published in 1870. It was initially released in monthly installments, consisting of drawings of objects as seen through the microscope with accompanying descriptions of the specimens. A comment in the January 1, 1870 issue of the Monthly Microscopical Journal was cautiously optimistic:
“A New Treatise on Microscopic Objects. Mr. Van Voorst is about to issue a very comprehensive treatise on Microscopic Objects. The Author is Mr. J. H. Martin, Secretary to the Maidstone and Mid-Kent Natural History Society. The first part was to have been issued on the 1st of this month. Each part will contain eight plates and eight pages of text. The whole number of figures will be 200, and we cannot help thinking that Mr. Van Voorst will have to exert more than his ordinary skill as a scientific publisher, if he contrives to include the whole range of histology in these. The figures will be faithful drawings of the structures as they appear when as nearly as possible filling the ordinary field of the microscope. It is proposed to commence with the primary forms of Vegetable life, and to proceed onwards through the tissues to the woody structures of the Exogens and Endogens, next descending to the Acrogens, and so passing to the extreme limits of vegetable life, as the Desmideae, &c.; hence to the lower forms of Animal life, the Infusoria, and on through the Badiata to the Insects, which will be drawn and described in their various orders, and the minute organs figured separately. In the concluding Plates will be represented interesting and characteristic geological structures, with some of the more curious forms and groupings of crystals. The description of the objects will be brief, and, as far as possible, void of technicalities; and no attempt will be made to enter into details relating to their physiological action”.
Opinion of the final product was extremely negative. Martin’s chief mistake was to make all the drawings himself. He was not a particularly good artist, and his drawings generally lack detail and are very two-dimensional. The review of Martin’s book in the April, 1871 issue of the Monthly Microscopical Journal was both brilliant and vicious. On a personal note, I am a scientist with approximately 90 publications to my credit, and am very thankful that nobody ever gave me a review like this one. The full review follows, accompanied by excerpts from Martin’s book (Figures 3 and 4):
“Microscopic Objects Figured and Described. By John H. Martin, Honorary Secretary to the Maidstone and Mid-Kent Natural History Society. London: Van Voorst. 1870. Apart altogether from our desire that Mr. Martin had not written this work, we must express our regret that the publisher has sent it to us for review. We say this because we suppose he insists on a notice, and it is not in our power to say a single syllable in praise of the volume. It is without any aim; it can serve no purpose; and it is altogether the worst thing of the kind that we have ever seen. There is not, in the whole collection of plates any one which is even fairly passable, and there are many which are as truly execrable as it is possible to conceive. There are 194 drawings of various objects without one that we can say is fairly executed, and indeed some of them are so abominably handled that it is a matter of surprise to us that the author - be he possessed of the smallest possible experience - should have allowed them to appear. But, apart from this, the book is altogether aimless. Every one, or nearly so, of the objects (with the exception of some of Mr. Forbes's specimens at the end) have been done, and exceedingly well done, before, in various treatises on Natural History and Histology. And even the rock specimens have been in part done, and very admirably so, in an article some years ago by Mr. Forbes, in the 'Popular Science Review’. We have never beheld such abominable misrepresentations as the plates, for indeed there is not the faintest depth in them; there is a horrible flatness about them which gives one the idea of an ordinary drawing crushed out flat, so as to effectually remove any traces of perspective. We should gladly have avoided saying anything about the work at all, but it would be unfair to our readers to pass any but a most unfavourable critique upon work which has been so execrably handled”.
Figure 4. Title page, dedication and preface to John H. Martin’s 1870 Microscopic Objects Figured and Described. Bowerbank was a high ranking member of the Royal Microscopical Society and many other important scientific societies. It is not known if Martin actually knew Bowerbank at that time.
Figure 5. Four illustrations and accompanying texts from Martin’s 1870 Microscopic Objects Figured and Described. In the book, the illustrations appear on one page, and the captions on another. John Martin did all the artwork. The generally poor quality of his drawings overshadowed the text, which included instructions in how to prepare the various objects.
For the 1871 census, Martin listed his occupation as “Prof(essor) Microscopy and Author”. Several other professional microscopists, such as Amos Topping, similarly referred to themselves as “professor”. The 1872 Handy Directory and Guide for Maidstone and the Surrounding Villages Within a Circle of Six Miles recorded John H. Martin as “microscopist, 86, Week street”.
Despite their objections to his 1870 book, John H. Martin was elected to be a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society on December 9, 1874. This may have been made possible by the 1872 publication of Martin’s second book, A Manual of Microscopic Mounting (Figures 6 and 7). This book wisely focused on extensive descriptions of methods for mounting microscope slides, and included far fewer of Martin’s drawings. The majority of his drawings were sketches related to slide making, and while generally crude, were sufficient to convey the necessary information. Artwork from professional illustrators was also used, in particular, engravings from microscope makers’ catalogues. This new book was evidently a success, and a second, revised edition was issued in 1878 (Figure 8).
Figure 6. Title page and preface to John Martin’s 1872 Manual of Microscopic Mounting. Note especially the acknowledgements to professionals such as Beale, Collins and Wheeler for the use of images from their books and catalogues.
Figure 7. Two plates from Martin’s 1872 Manual of Microscopic Mounting, both from drawings by Martin. The majority of Martin’s artwork in this book is like the left plate, simplistic but nonetheless instructive. The right plate, Martin’s drawings of adulterants that may be found in food, is of dubious value.
Figure 8. Two pages of illustrations from John Martin’s 1878 second edition of Manual of Microscopic Mounting. This edition relied even more heavily on professionally prepared drawings.
Martin formed a company, the Micro-Assay Laboratory, as a service to evaluate customer’s foodstuffs and other products for contaminants. The sketches of adulterants in Martin’s 1872 book (Figure 6, right panel) hint at his interest in this use of the microscope. This business was in operation by June, 1973, the earliest record I found for Martin’s use of the company name. On June 20, 1873, the English Mechanic and World of Science published a short article by Martin, on construction of a flow chamber for cultivating water life, which gave his address as “Micro-Assay Laboratory, Maidstone
In early 1877, Martin made a bid for another line of work. The February 10, 1877 issue of the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art carried the following advertisement: “To NOBLEMEN and GENTLEMEN.—An AUTHOR, a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, &c, desires to ASSIST a Gentleman in SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH; would also act as Private Secretary, &c; no objection to travel - Further particulars, amount of salary required, and first-class reference, address F.R.M.S., care of Jno. H. Martin, Esq., 86 Week Street, Maidstone”.
He was still in Maidstone as of April, 1877, when Martin published an article in the English Mechanic and World of Science from 86 Week Street. On November 16 of that year, Martin advertised that he and the Micro-Assay Laboratory had move to London (Figure 9). The 1878, second edition of A Manual for Microscopic Mounting gave Martin’s address as “Micro Assay Laboratory, York Chambers, Adelphi, London, WC”.
Figure 9. Announcement of Martin’s move to London. From the November 16, 1877 issue of Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science.
Also on November 16, 1877, John Martin was elected to the Society of Public Analysts. The election announcement described him as being an “analytical chemist”.
The 1881 census found John Martin back in Maidstone, living with his parents. The census was conducted at the end of March. John Henry Martin died April 6, 1881, at his parents’ house. The recorded cause of death was “caries of vertebrae, fatty liver” certified by Charles Boyce M.B. The caries (holes) in Martin’s vertebrae may have been a result of extrapulmonary (miliary) tuberculosis with a concentration in the spine (Pott’s disease). While fatty liver may indicate obesity or alcoholism, it might also have been a consequence of nutritional deficiency related to tuberculosis.
Figure 10. Hairs of a polar bear, viewed through crossed polarizing filters (polariscope), 10x objective lens.
Many thanks to Drs. James McCormick and Peter Paisley for their thoughts on John Martin’s death record.
The American Naturalist (1874) Advertisement of unmounted objects by John H. Martin, Vol. 8, page 316
Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 65 and 154, and plate 25
Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science (1877) Advertisement from John Martin, Vol. 36, page 225
Death record of John Henry Martin (1881)
Directory of Maidstone, Kent (1847) Cabinet makers and upholsterers: Martin, John, 5 Church St. accessed from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mrawson/maiddir47.html
England census and birth records, accessed through ancestry.co.uk
English Mechanic and the World of Science (1874) proposal from John Martin to form a microscopical club in Maidstone, Vol. 20, page 52
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1865) Exchange offer from John H. Martin, Vol. 1, page 216
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1866) Exchange offers from John H. Martin, Vol. 2, pages 72 and 168
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1867) Exchange offer from John H. Martin, Vol. 3, page 168
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1869) Exchange offer from John H. Martin, Vol. 5, page 120
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1872) Exchange offers from John H. Martin, Vol. 8, pages 72, 96, 120 and 144
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1873) Exchange offers from John H. Martin, Vol. 8, pages 168, 192, 240 and 264
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1874) Exchange offers from John H. Martin, Vol. 9, pages 24 and 284
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1875) Exchange offer from John H. Martin, Vol. 11, page 48
The Handy Directory and Guide for Maidstone and the Surrounding Villages Within a Circle of Six Miles (1872) information on the Martins and their addresses, pages 10, 12, 50, 58, 65, 80 and 81
Martin, John H. (1870) Microscopic Objects Figured and Described, J. Van Voorst, London
Martin, John H. (1872) A Manual of Microscopic Mounting, J. & A. Churchill, London
Martin, John H. (1873) A new growing cell, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 17, page 352
Martin, John H. (1875) Preserving fungi, Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, Vol. 11, page 163
Martin, John H. (1875) Meat biscuits, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 22, page 311
Martin, John H. (1875) Test for estimating the proportion of chicory in coffee, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 22, page 300
Martin, John H. (1875) Test for estimating the proportion of chicory in coffee, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 22, page 377
Martin, John H. (1875) untitled note on using platinum wire for filtering, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 22, page 300
Martin, John H. (1877) A method for calculating the distance of the spring of insects, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 25, page 137
Martin, John H. (1877) Economic pressure apparatus, English Mechanic and the World of Science, Vol. 25, page 69
Martin, John H. (1877) A Manual of Microscopic Mounting, second edition, J. & A. Churchill, London
The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1869) Maidstone and Mid-Kent Natural History Society, Vol. 2, pages 63-64
The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1870) A new treatise on microscopic objects, Vol. 3, page 50
The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1871) New books, with short notices: Microscopic Objects Figured and Described, Vol. 5, page 133
The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1874) election of John Martin to the Royal Microscopical Society, Vol. 13, page 37
The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1875) donation of a slide from John Martin to the RMS, Vol. 13, pages 135 and 138
Pigott’s, Maidstone (1840) Cabinet makers and upholsterers: Martin, John, (& picture frame maker), 4 Church St. accessed from http://www.janetandrichardsgenealogy.co.uk/pigots_1840_-_maidstone.htm
The Sanitary Record (1877) Society of Public Analysts, page 308
Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art (1877) Advertisement from John Martin, Vol. 43, page 182